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Tire Failures Lead to Crashes — and Lots of Finger-Pointing

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A simple flat tire is often manageable when driving. A blowout, however, is another matter.

The tire industry has a history of arguing that tire failure does not cause a driver to lose control of a vehicle, and that consequently even if the tire was defective it could not cause a car accident. However, according to, consumer testing performed on a Ford Bronco II has shown that tire failure at highway speeds causes the vehicle to change directions, forcing an emergency steering response from the driver and resulting in loss of control and a subsequent crash.

When the tread of a tire separates itself from the casing or body of the tire and causes a driver to lose control and crash, tire manufacturers are often quick to blame the driver, the vehicle, or the road. But where does the fault really belong?

Manufacturer Defects

Tire tread separations are usually the result of poor bonding during the radial tire manufacturing process. Something may have gone wrong in the chemical process during manufacture, causing the tread and the steel belting to fail to bond properly to the tire casing. Over a relatively short period of time, a defective tire will begin to show signs of unbalance and a bump will form in the tread area, expanding until tire failure occurs.

Driver Abuse

Although poor tire maintenance, such as over- and under-inflation, would have to be substantial and long-lasting to cause a tread separation, it can occur. On rough roads, excessive air pressure can cause excessive heat generation and tire wear. Tires are designed to absorb the shock resulting from impact, but if a driver hits a large pothole at highway speed, enough force can be generated to cause a tread separation.

Improper Repair

The common method of repairing tire punctures is a combination of a patch and plug. But if the hole is not properly prepared prior to application of the patch, the tip of the plug portion can cause a tread separation to begin, and once it starts, it cannot be corrected. The separation will spread until the tire is replaced.

Excessive Wear

Tires are designed to be driven for a specific number of miles and then changed. When mileage limits are reached and exceeded, the chances for blowouts, tread separations, and loss of traction increase.

Problems Lead to Recalls

Tread separation problems often lead to tire recalls. The largest tire recall to date was in 1978, when Firestone recalled over 14.5 million Firestone 500 tires for a design defect leading to belt-edge separation at high mileage. Congressional hearings found the tire to be defective and the cause of 250 deaths, although Firestone blamed the problems on the consumer, citing under-inflation and poor maintenance as causes for the separations.

Image by Glenn Gutierrez


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